Album Review: International Pop Overthrow Volume 22

Now comes the 22nd volume in a long-running series of compilations chronicling the current state of powerpop. If this set is Exhibit A, the evidence is strong that it’s in fine shape.

Right out of the gate, this new collection fires on all cylinders: the first seven tracks are all powerpop gems of the highest order; Pecker’s “They Painted With Their Fingers” is simply delightful. Certainly, some of the melodies will come off as derivative, and many sonic textures will seem overly familiar to listeners. But where powerpop is concerned, those characteristics are quite often features, not bugs.

The set is loaded with uptempo cuts typical of the style, but the occasional ballad shows up no and then; The Vinylos “Turn to Black” is nice enough in that regard. And Sue Hedges’ torchy ’80s-movie-theme-styled ballad “I Know Now” seems better suited for a wholly different compilation. On one hand those tunes are more than a bit out of place among the rockers, but it does make sense to provide the occasional respite from unrelenting onslaught of hooky riffage.

It’s not perfect. The Tearaways’ well-intentioned “Wrecking Crew” is a tad over-earnest and mawkish. And Popdudes’ cover of That Thing You Do! fictional band The Wonders’ “Dance With Me Tonight” is unnecessary in the extreme. And while I love the otherworldly Theremin (I own one), “Goldfinger (Theremin version)” by Blake Jones & the Trike Shop is indescribably annoying. And for every couple of roaring rockers there are bits of lightweight piffle; those tunes are pleasant and harmless enough, but they won’t linger in the mind the way that the best of the genre can do.

None but the hardest of hardcore powerpop fans will recognize the names of most of the nearly 70 artists represented on this 3CD set. But a few names are familiar. The aforementioned Tearaways gave the world the soaring classic “Jessica Something” more two decades ago. Bird Streets is one of Jason Falkner’s many collaborative efforts. Three Hour Tour was featured on Jordan Oakes’ first Yellow Pills collection. The dB’s Peter Holsapple, Van Duren, Kimberley Rew, Dave Rave, Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and Lannie Flowers are all here too, with winning tunes worthy of their sterling reputations.

But in total, how well you know the artist has little correlation to the quality of their material as showcased here. Compiler/curator/impresario David Bash has done a fine job of wading through what must have been an avalanche of entries, and the resulting collection is as solid as could be hoped for. Listeners who dig powerpop are pretty much guaranteed to find at least a few tunes of the knock-you-over variety; some will discover a few dozen artists – most of whom are unsigned – whom they’ll wish to explore in greater depth.

A few tunes display ambition that extends far beyond the narrow powerpop genre; perhaps most notable among these is the third disc’s leadoff track, “Calendar Street” by Ulysses. Hints of ELO and Queen are part of a song that’s decidedly retro yet somehow modern. And the Dukes of Stratosphear tribute “Lord Cornelius Plum” by the Anderson Council sounds pretty much like you’d expect it to.

Most of the tunes are new, and most haven’t appeared elsewhere before now. An exception is Van Duren’s “Chemical Fire,” a recording that dates from 1977. But it’s so good that we won’t quibble.

Bash has also done a good job of programming the selections so that they flow, and the mastering – sometimes a problem on projects such as this – is top-notch. Bash probably chuckled inwardly when he chose the song “Yesterday’s Girl Tomorrow” to be the next-to-last track on the third and final disc. The band’s name? The Penultimate, of course.

Especially where this genre is concerned – it’s not as if powerpop artists make a habit of crafting concept albums – a collection that cherry-picks from among the best available material is sure to succeed. And International Pop Overthrow Volume 22 does just that.